Showing posts with label Fruit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fruit. Show all posts

6 Jan 2022

So that was 2021

2021 has been an eventful, challenging and fun year ... but it hasn't all been about the veg...

Hampstead Heath ponds frozen over in February

Well, there she goes ... goodbye to 2021; a bittersweet year but one that I will remember fondly. That may seem a strange thing to say, given that the country was in lockdown for the first part of the year, and held to ransom by the coronavirus pandemic, but I was one of the lucky ones who remained in excellent health and was grateful for vaccines when offered. 

So, for me, conversely, lockdown was a time of freedom; freedom to improve my run across Hampstead Heath, to potter in the garden in the morning sun, to walk by the Thames and its tributaries, and to explore the Greater London area. 

11 Aug 2021

While I was away ... how my garden fared

It’s always a worry when you go away in midsummer and leave the garden or allotment to fend for itself, especially with the fickle weather we’ve experienced this year. I’ve been away for a few days in lovely Lancashire where it rained quite a lot. (Important for such a beautiful green county!) I gather heavy rain was not exclusive to the north so, as a priority on my first day back, I went to assess the veg garden.  

Leafless stalk of cabbage plant
Pigeons or slugs - who’s the vandal here?

8 Oct 2019

Goji Goji Go!

My plant of the week :) and why you should grow them ...

Small five petalled purple and cream flowers hang from an edible Goji berry shrub

This is another of my £2 supermarket 'twigs' - the Goji Berry, occasionally known as Wolfberry or Duke of Argyll's tea.  Residing in a middle sized pot and parked just inside the shade edge of the lime trees in the Car Park garden, it has (over several years) grown to be a single lengthy arching stem with two straggly branches, a few leaves and no fruit.  Pretty pointless, I'm sure you'd agree.

Last autumn however, it wheedled its way back - not so much into my affections as into whatever piques my interest.  It bore fruit.  Or rather, a fruit.  One tiny glowing red berry shining through the autumn gloom.  So, naturally, I was expecting greater things from the plant this year.

14 Apr 2019

A Sunday stroll around the Veg Patch

A quick blog post from me this chilly but sunny Sunday morning as I have strawberries to plant and a herb garden to sort out.

Huge sage in a pot at the southern end of the veg patch this morning

We've certainly had some weather this week - warm sunshine, chill winds, blue skies, grey skies, rain and even hail, all in the last few days. There may have been thunder at one point. I keep humming that Disney song about April Showers and hoping for another warm summer like last year.

I woke early to a chill, blue-ish sky sort of day and, given recent unpredictable weather, thought I'd start with a stroll around the veg patch with my camera. A lot can happen in a week and I've not spent much time there as I've been planting up the new layout of the other garden I look after, the Car Park Garden, a space that I can actually look out onto.

So what's happened while my eyes were averted? The veg patch is looking lovely having positively burst into blossom. Chive and wild garlic buds are shooting up, peony stems are now about 12 inches high, sweet cicely herb is in flower, and lovage and comfrey are growing with a vengeance. I say vengeance because both really need to be kept in check. 

There was a lot of colour from spring flowers (although the tulips have mostly come up blind this year and the daffs are pretty much finished), a few bees and ladybirds, and a surprise in the form of my first asparagus spears popping their heads up.  It won't be long before I'm enjoying fresh purple spears with a poached egg for breakfast - yum! It seems early for asparagus but it's only a week ahead of last year, when we'd already had a couple of weeks of very warm weather to tempt the spears into action.

Purple broccoli has now finished. I was buzzed by several bees as I dug them up - they'd been enjoying the flowers but I need to clear the space for this year's crops. And I've left a kale plant to flower for them. I'll collect the kale seeds to grow some micro greens later on.

As expected, the Morello cherry trees are now smothered in white blossom, as are the pear and quince trees. Some calm weather to encourage pollinators to linger would be good but with a ground level nectar bar from forget me nots, honeywort, honesty, achillea and erysimum flowers to feed on, would they notice the clouds of blossom above?

I spotted the Honesty (Lunaria annua) seedlings last summer and gave them room to grow.  Lunaria was introduced to the garden a few years ago because I love the papery seed pods at the end of the year and bees love the flowers. And as they're a biennial, the plants flower much earlier than annuals - one way to have a succession of flowers in the garden!

A little bit of Honesty ... 

I'm very behind with seed sowing but now that warmer weather is promised (at least for the next couple of weeks), I'll be opening up the seed box this week and possibly also planting out my overwintered sweet peas.  It's supposed to be 19°C/69°F by next weekend - I don't want to tempt fate but I think I'll leave my sunhat within easy reach.

30 Mar 2019

March in the veg patch garden

White blossom in springtime
Regular as clockwork - blossom on the plum tree. 

Tonight the clocks go forward in the UK, heralding the start of British Summer Time. Tomorrow I'll wake as usual at 7am and change the hands on all the clocks to 8am and feel that the day has stolen a march on me.  It's all very unsettling but, despite my curmudgeonly attitude, at least I'll feel one step closer to summer!

The first quince blossom this year

Now that April is only a day or two away, the garden is really coming alive.  Mostly with flowers, to be fair, but when those flowers are sparkling on the pear and plum trees, you know you can start to get excited. There's even one small blossom bud on the quince tree planted at the northern end of the veg patch; the other quince (a patio variety in a pot) has never flowered and I'll be pleasantly surprised if I see any blooms this year.  I'm not sure why it's never flowered but no flowers means no fruit.  More feeding is needed I guess.

And so to rhubarb. Choosing the best cultivar is key; I've already indulged in some delicious stewed rhubarb a few weeks ago thanks to a friend who grows a large patch of Timperley Early and, serendipitously for me, doesn't like rhubarb!  Regular readers may remember that I got rid of my Glaskins Perpetual clump last year. It was too big and too green - but fantastic if you want stems for most of the year.  I like a nice red stem (a must for fruit fools or stewed fruit) so pinned my hopes on a new Siruparber plant from Lubera in Switzerland as well as the two Red Champagne plants struggling to survive under the apple trees.

Red Champagne rhubarb - and a matching tulip

In the past few weeks I'd convinced myself that the Siruparber was a goner as there was nothing to indicate where it had been last year, but this week I've spotted a couple of tiny leaves poking up and quickly put a wire basket over the top for protection against fox cubs.  The Champagne plants have produced a towering flower stem in the past, (not a good thing for rhubarb), clearly demonstrating that they are Not Happy.  And this is where you learn by doing - I'd read that rhubarb could be grown in light shade ... or apparently not in this case. I have two Champagne crowns so one will be carefully dug up and moved into the light - or as much as it can get with a four storey block of flats in close proximity on either side of the veg patch. (The patch gets around 6 hours of sun on a good day, which is fine for most veg and annuals.)

Spring flowers - Honeywort, Bleeding Heart plant, Starflower
Cerinthe / Honeywort
Lamprocapnos / Bleeding Heart
Borage / Starflower

I do think colour is so lush in spring - I have primulas, cowslips, daffodils, forget-me-nots, tulips and muscari (grape hyacinths) to keep bees happy. I've only seen a couple so far but they'll buzz over once they know the nectar bar is open. This year self-seeded Cerinthe (honeywort) and Borage are blooming under the fruit trees - perfectly placed for pollinators - and one or two calendula plants have over-wintered. I don't even mind that the purple sprouting broccoli has finished and started to flower.  It's possibly the prettiest time in the veg patch and all part of the circle of life.

Last year's tulips return. Did I put those colours together?

16 May 2018

A bumper year for fruit?

Pear blossom in April

Now that the last of the fruit blossom has dropped - quince excepted - my current obsession is to walk around the garden checking for fruitlets.  I've been gardening in the veg patch for almost a decade now and this has become a bit of an annual ritual.  I'm looking after ten fruit trees (apples, pears, plums, cherries and quince) as well as soft fruit and it's incredibly frustrating to see beautiful blossom fall to the ground before being pollinated. So, every spring, I'm on the lookout for fruit set. It's a hazard of urban gardening that any wind is funnelled between buildings, creating challenging conditions for insects to pollinate and blossom to stay put on the tree.  This year though, I've got a good feeling that the crazy weather so far this year might just have been the perfect thing for the fruit trees.

11 Mar 2017

Stumped! And a bittersweet solution

Sometimes (actually, with increasing regularity) I despair at the culture we live in, where statistical results and budget take precedence over common sense and communication.  This past week I've seen tree works carried out by undertrained and badly equipped contractors acting on the orders of disinterested landlords and I've also had a conversation with a lad on our estate who is struggling to keep going with his chosen career of horticulture. In both instances, I believe budget played a part.

My alarm bells starting ringing a couple of months back about the tree works when notices were posted about which trees would be affected. We're in a conservation area so permission has to be sought from the local council for any tree works - yes, even when I want to prune my fruit trees in spring apparently!  I checked the online planning application and map and was satisfied that my fruit trees were unaffected by this cull but, stupidly, missed the threat to the cherry plum tree growing next to our playground area.

~ Last week ... ~

It's too late now, of course, but I'm wondering why on earth anyone would want to destroy a healthy, prolific and beautiful fruit tree. It was small, as trees go, the perfect urban tree - covered in bridal confetti blossom during late February and March and hundreds of sweet yellow plums in July. The problem here is that there is no programme for regularly maintaining the trees and shrubs on the estate - the budget conscious powers-that-be ignore the situation until it becomes a problem.  The tree was allowed to grow unchecked until it reached the first floor and the lower branches stretched out across the pathway next to the border.  Pruning the lower branches back would have resolved any hazard to pedestrians and left tenants with a beautiful tree and delicious fruit to eat. But, no. What we have now is less than a stump.  It was the only tree marked out to be 'felled and poisoned', despite there being several over-tall conifers blocking the light to flats on the second floor. Even the contractors were perplexed at the loss of this beautiful tree.  It might seem overly sensitive to some but I have felt truly saddened by this all week.

~ Why would anyone not want this outside their window? ~

To be fair, the contractors were pleasant young men working to a job sheet and, worryingly, their employers had sent them in with incomplete safety measures. No ladders, no safety gloves; at least these lads sported hard hats with face shields but stood on walls to reach tree canopies, with one steadying the other by the ankles. They even showed me scarred arms from wearing thin fabric gloves to operate chainsaws and hedge trimmers! They were unable to identify the trees that they were chopping at; one of them explained that he was new to this work and still learning. The surveyor who had visited before them should surely have known what he was looking at?  I mean, how hard is it to identify a Viburnum x bodnantense in December? The pink scented flowers should provide a big clue but these shrubs were labelled as cotoneaster trees. Elsewhere in the grounds, a Hebe and Elaeagnus were marked on the map as 'unidentified trees'. *rolls eyes heavenwards and shakes head*

The contractors were careful of my newly raked soil when pruning out the epicormic stems of the limes in the middle garden. (In fact, even there these stems weren't pruned correctly, being chopped off half way.) By some miracle the ivy on the limes, currently housing several nesting birds, was left alone. The council planning department had deferred to a member of the local Conservation Area Committee to verify that they had no objections to the tree works requested and the woman consulted (not a tenant here) actually asked for the ivy on the lime trees to be pulled off!!! Words fail me!!  (I know I dislike ivy when it's spreading on the ground, but ... my little birds!!) AND, it's absolutely no business of hers if I, as caretaker of the garden, am happy for ivy to grow up the trees as it has done for years.  Flippin' cheek!

*Takes a deep breath and calms down*   There was a silver lining to this cloud as I asked the lads what would happen to the wood chippings of their morning's work and was told that I could have them.  So it seems that a decision has been made as to what to line the circle of the middle garden with.  Not grass, fake or real, nor gravel but bark chippings.

And what about the young man I mentioned who desperately wants to be a gardener?  He was ten months into his training at the same college I attended when he was asked to leave. This allegedly was due to his being late on half a dozen occasions in that ten month period. Colleges have to keep records on attendance for their funded programmes and lateness lowers the statistics, and statistics are numbers, not reasons. I get it, lateness is not acceptable but let's put this in perspective - it used to take me 40 minutes to an hour to drive there; he used public transport where the overcrowded trains would frequently be cancelled creating a domino effect on the rest of his 'walk-train-walk-train-walk' journey.  Did he give up and go home? No; he persevered and got there.  Was he offered help and advice?  No ... leaving him floundering, working indoors and disillusioned. He's a pleasant, polite and bright lad (and, yes, I am biased because he's one of my son's friends) and I hate to see enthusiasm and a passion for doing what you love thwarted in any young person.  Hopefully my on the spot careers advice will have given him a few avenues to pursue with potential for a job, voluntary work at Kew and a possible apprenticeship in his future. And he offered to volunteer for the community gardens here. :o)

What a week!

~ You can't even buy these plums in the shops ~
PS.  I've just discovered that Thompson and Morgan sell cherry plum trees as bare root hedging plants ... and I was considering replacing the Euonymus hedge in the middle garden. Maybe another problem solved?
PPS. Please forgive my ranting. I sometimes forget how much I learned during my garden design training which included a lot of horticulture and focus on plants. I certainly wouldn't expect everyone to know a Viburnum from a Cotoneaster but would have thought that someone practising arboriculture would be trained to know the difference! 

25 Nov 2016

Let's hear it for ugly fruit!

Are blotched apples safe to eat? I found out the answer is yes, and cooked up a batch for winter use.

Windfall apples

Given that the meagre fruit from my veg patch apple trees has long gone, I could hardly believe my eyes when I walked into my niece's garden the weekend before last; at the far far end of the garden, the branches of the two eating apple trees were still weighed down with fruit. Not only that but the grass all around was littered with windfalls so the fruit was definitely ready for picking. Nature's bounty waiting to be used ...

7 Jul 2015

The food growing garden in June

Now there's a beautiful sight - bug free broad bean tops!

You've got to love June for the lushness of the garden!  I'm finding lots to sigh with pleasure over, despite June having been a completely manic month for me: going to shows (GrowLondon and Hampton Court), normal working life, son home from uni, masses of emergency watering needed (not of the boy. Although … ) and, at the beginning of the month, I was away in Hampshire for a couple of weeks because my elderly Mum was hospitalised after a fall, now safely back home with my dad.

There hasn't been a lot of time for gardening so I can thank my perennial veg and early sowings for food on the table. I've recently let the asparagus grow into fronds as I turned towards artichokes for a meal time treat. (Yes, I'm now a dab hand at cooking artichokes which is not as fiddly as it seems.) Kales and mange tout have been abundant and the broad bean pods are filling out nicely. In fact, they've filled out so quickly with regular watering and sunshine that I may pop down to the garden in a moment to see if any are ready for picking. Like everyone else, I've found black aphids to be prolific this year. Not every plant was affected but as I felt the need for some deep watering last Friday after days of tropical heat, I linked up the four hosepipes needed to reach the garden, connected these to a far away tap and squirted and squished the aphids on my beans into extinction.  Then it rained all night. Sod's Law and all that. It was still worth the effort to have clean, bug-free beans. (Plus, the tops are delicious lightly steamed with butter, salt and a grind of pepper.)

With the warm/hot weather, it's been even more of a joy to while away the still-long evenings in the cool of the garden. There's a lot to catch up on but I've gradually been moving plants off my balcony and into the ground. Timing has been crucial for this; when I took the beans and achocha down to transplant, it was too windy.  When I took the tomatoes down, the soil was like dust. When I planted out flowers, there was just enough light rain to bring the slugs out.  The usual run of the mill stuff we gardeners face.

Unbelievably, I still have more tomatoes to go out (multiple plants of 10 varieties - that's what happens when old seed stock is used up) and a courgette which I hope won't be too pot bound to grow successfully. The autumn Cavolo Nero in pots is ready to go out, which is just as well as one of the current Cavolos is in flower.  I'm not wasting these flowers, they're delicious in a salad (if they make it that far - I usually munch on them as I garden.)

I also want to sow seeds for more beetroot, peas and chard as the last lot have finished. It feels as though the gardening year is running away but it's only just July so there's still plenty of opportunity for planting and sowing.  And, in a few weeks, I hope to be eating potatoes, broad and french beans, the first of my cherry tomatoes and, by mid-August, even sweet corn.  The preserving jars are being made ready … :o)  (I have a great recipe for pickled beans which I'll post when the french beans are ready.)

The strawberries have not been good. Oh, there's been plenty of fruit but it's all been small and disappointing. I don't think there's anything wrong with the varieties I'm growing, it's the lack of water. Until I can properly sort that out, I'm thinking of giving up on strawberries.  Raspberries, on the other hand, never fail to please!  My autumn raspberries have been fruiting for the past few weeks - they have a tendency to start in June and fruit until November.  It starts with just a little bowlful now and again to which I can now add blueberries and honeyberries … and cherries if I can find a way of making sour cherries more palatable.  I've been reading that sour cherries are best for cooking as the levels of sweetness can be adjusted.  Some research and practise is needed, obviously, after last year's major fail of a cherry crumble.

And, to end on a high note - I have seen pears!  Admittedly only two or three but, hey, that's a start.  And enough to earn the trees a reprieve. If only there was also some plums …    I'm going to a summer fruit pruning workshop at Wisley this coming weekend and you know I'll be reporting back with my findings!

12 May 2015

The Fruit-full Garden

Morello cherry fruitlets. So pretty still with their little pink skirts! 

I was away for the whole of the last bank holiday weekend and returned to go straight back to work so, after five days away from the garden, I could really see a difference in the fruit. There's definitely signs of fruitlets forming on all the plum and pear trees.  The apple and quince calyces are reliably plump and fuzzy and the cherries look like being a bumper crop too.

Warm sunshine has really brought the strawberry plants on (loads of flowers!) and, thrilling times, I have tiny gooseberries forming for the first time! So far, I've counted only 4 strings of fruitlets on the redcurrant bush - I may need to buy another - and the Physalis (Cape Gooseberry) grown a couple of years ago is fully in leaf. This shrub is in an old potato sack and doing well; I wonder how it would do if I planted it in the soil - hopefully this will give it a boost resulting in bigger harvests!

My plan to reduce the number of Autumn Bliss raspberries in favour of the new Polka raspberries is a major fail.  Once they started growing, I hadn't the heart to dig them up, even though they're occupying the part of the space allocated to my new cut flower patch.  As the Polka canes have sent out a good amount of runners, I've left the sturdy ones and dug up only the spindly runners (inspired by my visit to the trial beds at Wisley). A few have been potted up for friends.  I think it's safe to say that the veg patch will be raspberry central again this summer. (heh, heh.)

Last year the pear fruitlets all fell off so I have fingers and toes crossed (metaphorically speaking) for this year - what else can I do? There are problems afoot though - the plum tree leaves are curling in on themselves again, as they did last year, and I was horrified to see blisters on the pear leaves.

By happy chance I discovered a pristine copy of the RHS Garden Problem Solver in my local library; it's a really informative and well illustrated book although a bit like those medical dictionaries that make you worry about contracting diseases that you're never likely to encounter. Or is that just me? (I worked as a medical secretary in my youth; it became quite nerve wracking.)  I was able to swiftly identify my pear leaf pest as 'pear leaf blister mite'. (So obvious when you know.) Apparently it doesn't harm the tree and it's best to remove infested leaves to minimise spread, as long as the affected leaves are just a few - remove more than a few and the tree won't be able to photosynthesise and will become very unhappy indeed.

The curling plum leaves are being attacked by - you guessed it - 'plum leaf curling aphid'. (I'm glad someone has given these pests practical names, so much easier than trying to remember Latin.)  The solution is to spray the leaves as they open which is all very well but not if you're an organic gardener as I am. As usual, I will resort to squishing and spraying with water, perhaps with a drop of (plant based) Ecover washing up liquid in it.

A bit of good news: As I pottered around the garden weeding yesterday I noticed a few ladybirds gathering at the base of the plum tree … those aphids could find their days are numbered.

Skimming through this again, I realise I forgot to mention the Honeyberry bushes. They're also doing nicely and will hopefully hold onto their blossom in the teeth of ferocious winds once more ripping through the garden today.

30 Apr 2015

A fruitful visit to RHS Wisley's orchards

As Chief (some might say 'only') Grower in the food garden here, I enjoy an opportunity to see what other people are up to, so it was with a happy heart that I went to have a good nosey around the orchards and trial grounds at RHS Wisley.  Here's what I found.

Harking back to my perennial fascination with the art of pruning, I couldn't help but notice the way the apple trees have been shaped over the years. Look at the way whole branches have been pruned off these trees, leaving the centres open for ventilation and better pollination. The pruning cuts seen on young trees were also very edifying - look where the central leader has been removed on the tree in the middle.  It's healed over, possibly a couple of years past, so I assume this shaping is to encourage production of fruit. Return visits with my membership mean that I can pop back to see how that's working out.

There's something very special about seeing this range of varieties and the ways in which the trees are managed. I'd love to know more and hope to find out on one of the Wisley courses. The Summer Fruit Pruning workshop in July looks mighty tempting and I'll definitely be thinning out my plum trees this summer so a boost of knowledge would be put to good use.

Onwards to the trained fruit. I do love the look of this, it's just so clever, so neat and tidy.  I wish I'd known how to do this with our fruit trees at home. It not only looks beautiful but is productive and perfect for a small growing space or as an edible boundary.  (I recall my grandad used espaliered apples to cleverly section off his allotment area from the rest of his 150 ft long garden.)  A range of shapes can be seen: pear and cherry trees growing as fans, apples grown as step-overs and cordons against the shed.

I stopped to photograph the step-overs - making note of the tub that each tree is being grown in and how the length of the main stem has been bent and tied in with pruned spurs left for fruit bearing. I imagine they'll be moved in the future once the trial is finished and illustrates how well a tree will do in a good sized tub (and the right care).

I was intrigued by the way grapevines (top left) are being grown, up a column. Where's it going to go when it reaches the top - or will it be stopped? Very interesting, worth following up. It was the same in January when I came across a row of gooseberry standards. Eh?  I thought they had to be grown in a low growing goblet shape (so the berries could be accessed without injury). I'll make a point of going back because if this works, this is very good news for growers with little space.  I must admit that I've pruned my redcurrant bush as a standard although it hasn't given me more than a small bowlful of fruit yet!

There is much to be learned here.  Strawberries are spaced far apart; at home, mine are pretty much crammed in as nature would have it. Not that I have an option, space is in short supply, but I wonder what the benefits are of leaving that much room between plants. Bigger strawberries, do you think? Less slug attack?

Note the straw mulch over the raspberry beds - a good way to keep the soil moist in hot or windy weather.

And these raspberries… In the past I've pulled out all the runners, now I'm thinking I should leave a few as long as they stay within the set boundaries. What do others do, I wonder?

But it was the rhubarb trials that were the real eye-opener.  Four wide beds with two plants of each cultivar growing on each side.  There were over 60 rhubarb varieties growing there! Most I'd never heard of but noted the difference in size - the 'Earlies' were huge while others had barely started to put out leaves; others had much thicker stems and smaller leaves; some had the bulbous centre growth that also heralded the flowering of my rhubarb. Again, worth taking note of any varieties that appeal as rhubarb plants can produce over many years so choosing a monster plant for a small garden may cause regret. Specialist fruit suppliers will be able to advise on the wide range of choice available.

But for any gardeners reading this who grow blackcurrants, I'll leave you with this advice from the RHS. Their bushes have been cut down to try and eradicate Big Bud Mite as indicated by this sign.  I don't grow blackcurrants but, if I did, I'd be checking the buds right now.

17 May 2014

Tree Following: Plums, aphids and nature lending a hand

~ Plum fruitlet and curly leaves ~

I've chosen to follow all the fruit trees that I'm growing here in the garden; in the past month, the trees that have been causing the most concern are the plum trees.  The new leaves have been targeted by aphids whose sap-sucking activities cause the new leaves to twist, curl and, ultimately, die. Squishing is not an option with a 10 foot tall tree but I have been reading up organic measures that I can put in place for the future.  I haven't seen many lacewings in the past few years and these, as well as ladybirds, love to dine on aphids. Apparently tying rolls of cardboard to the tree will provide a daytime shelter for them and planting tansy, fennel, marguerites and cosmos nearby will also help.  No problem there - I'd love to see my fruit trees surrounded by flowers and, luckily, I have seed trays full of cosmos and marguerites.

I also read that an anti-aphid spray can be made by boiling up rhubarb leaves and using a dilution of the liquid to spray the insects. The oxalic acid content (which makes the leaves poisonous to all, even people) causes the heart to stop and so the insects die. It sounds good but I don't know if this will also affect the fruit (or me!) so have decided against this. Last year I was told by fruit growers at a local nature reserve that a squirt of Ecover washing up liquid in water used as a spray was what they found effective. (I'd forgotten about that until I re-read this posting!)

By working in the garden on my own during a quiet day, I realised that a much better alternative was being provided by nature.  The tiniest of birds in the garden, the Blue Tits, are flying in and pecking off the aphids (well, okay, probably the leaves as well but I don't mind.)  I've seen them doing the same to the rose bushes at the other end of the garden but then they'd been very timid. One of these little birds became less timid during the day as he flew back and forth but I worked very quietly just in case!

I'm keeping a careful eye on the trees as they're looking a bit the worse for wear now; the affected leaves are going brown which will reduce photosynthesis. Apparently once the aphids fly off (to another host plant), the tree should recover.  So, how to help this recovery? Bob Flowerdew, the organic gardener, advises that all fruit trees benefit from a nitrogen boost in the soil; beans and peas return nitrogen to the soil. Nasturtiums are also a good companion plant as aphids are drawn to their succulent leaves (although do I want more aphids around my trees? No.)  I think the answer is to use the trees as climbing frames for tall beans and see how that works out. Also to water well so that the tree isn't stressed and to remember to mulch the roots (but not the trunk) in early winter.

The good news is that, so far (but we still have the famous 'June drop' to get through), the fruitlets seem to be holding on and there are a few growing...

...Unlike the pear trees where the leaves are unaffected and looking very healthy but I've only found one fruit spike left from all that earlier blossom - and I think that's since dropped off!

The cherry trees are also promisingly dripping with fruitlets. I'm expecting quite a few of these to drop because that's what has happened in past years although there were loads left to pick!  I've also had to remove a small branch from the corner cherry tree as it had died but the rest of the tree seems okay.

The apple trees are also looking really good, with just one leaf (that I could find) having a few woolly aphids; lots of ladybirds on the apple trees should keep this in check but I'll keep an eye on it.  There was just a hint of blossom remaining on 29th April when I took these photos but, again, lots of tiny fruitlets have developed which have withstood the funnelling winds we had last week. I have strawberries, pelargoniums and borage planted around these trees and seen lots of bees buzzing around so I'm guessing this all helped with pollination!

And, finally, I have to give a big thank you to Victoriana Nurseries for the wonderful quince tree (Cydonia oblonga 'Champion') that they delivered earlier this year. It's established really well and makes me feel happy every time I stop to look at it!

7 May 2014

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

I'm sure that this is a sight being seen all over the country after all that rain we had earlier in the year. However, despite the excess of frothy blossom, the bees obligingly buzzing around the garden at the right time, underplanting the trees with nectar rich flowers, the few days of warm sunshine followed helpfully by a few days of rain - I still won't believe the trees will fruit until I see the evidence with my own eyes.  Looks like this could be it -  baby Braeburns! Thrilled, I am.

14 Apr 2014

Tree following… Choices, choices!

I managed to miss the deadline for Lucy's Tree Following last month so this month will be an introduction and a catch up on my tree so far.

Firstly, which tree to choose? We do so well for trees here in the UK.

A. lamarckii leaf buds about to unfurl
I love Amelanchier lamarckii, also known as Juneberry, such a pretty tree and it fades so beautifully at the end of the year.  Camden Council have just planted six Amelanchiers in a side street near to the local City Farm.  It's an unusual choice for a local council to instal, one rarely seen. A nearby householder has planted up the tree pit of the Amelanchier nearest to his house.  This would have been a good tree to follow, there's obviously a story there.  On the other hand …

There's a huge, mature and gloriously swooping willow on the Heath by the path to the duck ponds, lots of activity and dog walking going on nearby, plus the occasional art installation …

Then there's the poor lopped off plane trees under my window.  They were severely pruned in late Autumn last year.  Will they resprout? Will the robins return? Will the ivy survive?  And what of the garden that they're in? We might never know …

The canopy of these London Planes completely shaded this garden in past years.

Also under consideration is my urban orchard; eight fruit trees planted as one-year old bareroots in December 2009, this is their sixth year in the veg patch. A specially-developed-for-London apple tree joined the patch in January 2013, making nine trees.  I really feel I should get to know them better. They were covered in buds in March and I honestly can't tell a leaf bud from a fruit bud plus there's the whole pruning for fruit thing. Worthy of a closer look?  I've also just added a quince tree to this collection.  I haven't grown quince before so if excitement levels are a measure of tree following worthiness, this would be the one.

Tangled branches of Ulmus glabra.
But there's more.  Just when I'd almost decided, I walked past a tree of such quirkiness that I was all of a doodah.  Ulmus glabra, also known as Wych elm.  This is in front of the manor house at Capel's Enfield site and I met it on an ident walk in my first year.  Its pendant branches hide a glorious spaghetti like tangle on top of the trunk but the downside is that I probably won't see it during the summer months until my college studies resume. It was a real contender though and one I may sneakily report on from time to time throughout the tree following year.

Being realistic, the trees I see on a daily basis are my fruit trees so I'm going to follow these. I know I should pick one but as an orchard they all contribute to the garden.

Mid border looking south: two apple trees, two pears and a cherry in the corner. 

Over the past few weeks the blossom has been luxuriant with the pear and plum flowers showing first, followed by cherry and apple.  The plum blossom has almost gone leaving the cherry blossom to steal the show.  So many people have stopped to comment or take photographs and I'm really pleased that all this beauty is getting noticed.

I think the most interesting of these trees to look at (at the moment) is the cherry tree.  It's a Morello which is a sour cherry - good for pies and compotes (and perhaps dipped in dark chocolate!) but, for me, not for eating fresh off the tree.

There are two of these trees; one I dug up and moved to another corner plot a couple of years ago, this one stayed put; both are doing really well.  It was grafted onto dwarfing rootstock and, bizarrely, this rootstock grew a couple of stems.  After a couple of years, I was fairly confident this leafy growth was not contributing anything to the cherry tree and chopped off the usurping stems.  They still sprout leaves from time to time, and I'm enjoying the greenery this year but think it should really be pruned off.  You can see this in the photo below which also shows the plants surrounding the tree: day lilies and ivy to the right,  Jacob's Ladder (pulmonaria) and rosemary to the left.  The metal spire was for the clematis to climb up but it's making its own way up the tree!  (nb. must tie it in!)

I love the bark on prunus trees, this one is no exception being a deep bronze.  Like some Silver Birch trees, the young bark peels off to reveal a beautiful surface underneath.  I don't know if this is standard for cherry trees, I'm certainly enjoying the effect on this one!

One other point of interest about this tree: a couple of years ago, I found a tiny plant growing out of the soil under the tree.  I assumed it was a sycamore or such like and was about to pull it up when I saw a split cherry pip by the tiny plant.  I carefully transplanted the tiny tree to care for it on my balcony and then replanted it a year later.  That was a couple of years ago.  The tiny tree is now about 13 inches high; I'll probably have to plant it into it's final place at the end of this year so that it can grow big and strong away from its parent.

May 2012, just a seedling. March 2014 coming back to life; April 2014 in leaf.  

Looking up into the canopy of blossom - look at all those potential cherries!

PS.  The apple blossom is looking pretty special too at the moment!

28 Mar 2014

Let's get ready to {c}rumble

Pudding.  Surely one of the most evocative words in the English language.  At this time of year, if a pudding is to be provided from the garden then rhubarb is one way to go.  So when a neighbour says that she has lots of rhubarb on her allotment garden* and to help myself, I don't need asking twice!

I liked the look of a Danish rhubarb cake seen in the Guardian a couple of weekends ago but found that, unusually for me, I didn't have enough plain flour for the recipe. But I did have just enough to make a crumble topping, following a recipe from my Sarah Raven cookbook**. This recipe also has ground hazelnuts in it, as well as oats, which was rather nice.

The rhubarb plant I picked from is several years in the ground now so has stood well over the mild winter, whereas my veg patch rhubarb plants are still just getting going.  It looks like my friend's plant is ready to be split - there are several points (crowns) where the stems emerge.  It's also good to mulch or feed rhubarb in the spring as this will result in better stems - chicken or comfrey pellets will do, or compost or well-rotted manure, but leave the crowns clear.

If you have room to grow several rhubarb plants, it's a good idea to deliberately choose varieties that crop at different times; I noticed that the Capel Manor kitchen gardeners are currently picking stems from a well established Timperley Early with stems from 'Victoria' and 'Royal Albert' at about 4 inches and 'Stockbridge Arrow' crowns just peeking above the soil level.

I'd borrowed a copy of the RHS Good Fruit and Veg Guide from the college library.  I hadn't heard of either Albert or Stockbridge Arrow so wanted to see if the RHS rated them.  They weren't listed in the book but I was pleased to see that both varieties that I grow - Champagne and Glaskins Perpetual - have earned a mention.  The RHS describes the Champagne rhubarb cultivars to be generally early with sweet tender stems, whilst Glaskins P has a fair flavour but crops over a long period.  I picked stems from my Glaskins rhubarb in early November last year but that's certainly unusual; it will be interesting to see how it does in the months ahead.

There are two more plants that have piqued my interest from the RHS guide:  'Grandad's Favourite' (great name!) is described as a mid-season variety with excellent flavour, while the stems of  'Fulton's Strawberry Surprise' are tender and well-flavoured.  This last one also has an RHS Award of Garden Merit.  Ones to look out for at plant sales if looking to start a rhubarb patch.

* When the flats were built, a small piece of land next to the railway was fenced off for allotment gardens, each typically measuring about 3 x 6 metres. Individual tenants could adopt a plot for growing fruit and veg. They didn't have to be pretty, just well maintained and productive.  In recent years, a growing number of tenants have turned these spaces into private leisure gardens so most are now grassed over (or worse, buried under gravel) and get used on a handful of weekends in the summer.  Three plots are still used for the intended purpose, my friend's plot being one of them. She's also one of the original York Rise Growers.  Nuff said.

** The crumble topping can be found in this Telegraph article.  I whizzed up all ingredients in one of those hand-held blender chopping pots, having partially stewed my rhubarb on the stove top with butter and sugar. (Yes, butter. As instructed in the Guardian recipes. Nice.) Popped into little dishes and cooked for 20 minutes in the oven. Just enough time to make some Bird's lumpy custard. Honestly, I'm not usually that bad at making custard! It still tasted delicious.)

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